The films produced by the world-renowned Studio Ghibli are whimsical without exception. Breathtaking scenes follow typical child protagonists on fantastical adventures, and the audience is left in the end with a profound feeling of awe. Viewers are moved by unconventional characters with enough depth to carry the unique story arcs uncharacteristic of the common Western-world movie.
Although some of the culturally specific themes and nuances of Ghibli movies may seem at times unusual or difficult to comprehend for Western audiences, the deeper messages and darker undertones that drive the plot forward are what make these films so compelling. Recognizing the Japanese folklore or cultural imagery is not vital to understanding the environmental message of “Princess Mononoke” or the dangers of urban development in “Pom Poko.”
The extraordinary elegance of the hand-drawn animation has a distinct Japanese beauty. Serene landscapes and dreamy soundtracks set the stage for every story. A consistent staple of Ghibli movies is an aerial scene. Nearly every film has one, and all are done with exceptionally idealized cinematography meant to amaze the audience.
Hayao Miyazaki, a name almost synonymous with Studio Ghibli, is the creator behind most films the studio has produced. Miyazaki’s father owned a company called Miyazaki Airplane, which manufactured tail fins for Japanese fighter planes during World War II. Hayao Miyazaki’s childhood exposure to planes was the seed for his lifelong fascination with flight, which has manifested itself in his films, particularly reflected in “The Wind Rises.”
While some aerial scenes aid an important plot point, others seem to serve the sole purpose of being an aesthetic cherry on top of an already beautiful film. The flight scene in “Spirited Away” is a good example of how Miyazaki uses the natural beauty of the sky to contribute to the storyline. As the two main characters soar through a night sky, the line between memory and reality blurs as the protagonist remembers a time from her childhood in which she fell into a river. The viewer is met by a comparison of the night sky and the river, as clips of both are embedded seamlessly into each other to create a dichotomous effect.
The scene ultimately reveals why this contrast is relevant to the plot and the sensation of freedom quickly adopts an uplifting resolution, aided by the soundtrack. Flights in other Ghibli movies may be less profoundly emotional than this particular example, but still capture the allure of the sky. Films like “Castle in the Sky,” “Porco Rosso” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” particularly capitalize on this aerial element.
If you have never seen a Studio Ghibli film, now is as good a time as ever. The nearby Cinemark Movies 10 here in Wooster has its own Studio Ghibli fest and although it is nearly over, there are still a few opportunities to see some major classics on the big screen! There will be a showing later this month of “Spirited Away.”